The day before yesterday, 7th September, was the 40th death anniversary of a remarkable lyricist and filmmaker, PL Santoshi. Not many from the new generation have heard his name, and that’s understandable too since life is so fast these days. There’s so much information to process and so many avenues of entertainment. PL Santoshi does belong to the past, and who remembers death anniversaries nowadays, at least in public? These are times for the display of happiness when we are out there. But this man’s work was remarkable and has stood the test of time. Most of all, we need his thoughts in today’s fragile atmosphere of distrust and divisiveness. Consequently, I request your indulgence.
Pyarelal Shrivastava (his real name) was born on 16th August 1916 and in his salad days used to show a lot of interest in reading. One of his favorite reads was Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book, stories of animals that lived in a forest in Seoni, not too far from Jabalpur where he was born. After some years, he even started writing, short poems mainly. A film was being shot in his town and they were looking for a dialogue writer’s assistant. He got the job and was appreciated for his work. Soon, he got known for his feelings of inclusivity and respect of life, even from the animal kingdom. It is in the fitness of things then, that in the mid-‘40s, when India was sizzling with a clamour for independence, Prabhat Films Poona decided to make a theme on national unity, and invite the charged-up man to write its songs. Not just that, they even asked him to direct the feature, which was called Hum Ek Hain. It worked beautifully for PL Santoshi. He also came into contact with Rehana, the film’s leading lady. His future would have a lot to do with this lady as also with poetry engaging with respect for all mankind, no matter what their background.
He had worked in many films—as a songwriter, director, or both—in several films in which Rehana had starred. These were: Hum Ek Hain, Shehnai, Khidki, Roshni, Sargam, Saudagar, Chham Chhama Chham and Shin Shinaki Bubla Boo. He had written before and after Rehana as well, and of course he directed films with other heroines too, like Barsaat Ki Raat (1960), Dil Hi To Hai (1962. Credits shared with CL Rawal), and Qawwali Ki Raat (1964. Credits shared with Durgesh Kumar). The point is, he and Rehana fell in love, and for many years they were on Cloud 9. At least he was, till she left him for Pakistan and he came crashing down to earth. The jungle telegraph says he used to earn a lot of money, and she was high maintenance. By the time she left, he was in financial trouble. He did survive though, in his art too, after her. But her departure had changed him forever.
Recalls his son, the successful filmmaker Rajkumar Santoshi, “My father turned producer and suffered losses; that brought him down. We had to move to Thane (a suburb of Bombay) and rent a small home. My dad died penniless out of kidney failure in 1978”.
In Hum Ek Hain the theme was about a Hindu, a Muslim and a Christian living together. For which Santoshi wrote a few songs, like the title song, Hum ek hain, ek hai naiyya. Later, his poem on the different linguistic groups living with mutual respect on our land was articulated in Hum Panchhi Ek Daal Ke (1957). Aika ho aika (Marathi)…Hoon chhu Gujarati (Gujarati)…and so on it proceeded, taking in ‘Punjabi, Bihari, Bengali, Madrasi…sab hain Bhaaratwaasi’, it went on to say. The song went transnational to say Hum bachche hain Cheen ke, Japan ke, Iran ke, Roos ke, and it named many more countries. After which, Sab ko apna mulk hai pyaara, sab ka apna apna naara, par hum sab hain bhai bhai bhai bhai. Bachche hain jahaan ke. Then it turned religious, Mohammad se seekha, Isa se seekha, Gautam se seekha, Gandhi se seekha.
Before this too Santoshi had written a national integration song for V Shantaram’s Teen Batti Char Rasta (1953): Teen deep aur chaar dishaayen juda juda raston se aayen, as also the Hindi lyrics in the multilingual O re o puran bondu re.
Fables are genres that use animals and often have a moral. His ballad Suno suno re kahaani ik bahut puraani jise kehti thi naani ho, is a wonderful story of how different animals, scared to death of the King of the Jungle, the Lion, finally get together to face the beast. Unity gives them strength, that’s one message, but how they actually get the lion to eat out of their hands in a win-win way forms the substance of that extraordinary song, in which the poetry is the key. He ended up doing a beautiful lyrical job a la Jungle Book.
Santoshi used high imagination in his lyrics, and his work has stood the test of time. He made us visit the heavens in his sad thoughts with Mehfil mein jal utthi shama parwaane ke liye (Nirala, 1950) and Tum kya jaano tumhaari yaad mein hum kitna roye (Shin Shinaki Bubla Boo, 1952). He also wrote funny songs with the charming use of English words, as in Aana meri jaan Sunday ke Sunday…I love you! Also Mere gore gore gaal…that’s all! (Dulhan, 1958). And Dekh babu dekh, dukaan se main laayi hoon cake, marzi ho to take (Mr Superman Ki Waapasi, 1960).
Santoshi also penned an imaginative masterpiece for Talat to sing in Teen Batti Chaar Rasta (1953). But first about the situation that warranted such imagination in the film. In the narrative the hero Karan Dewan is a writer and has just fallen in love with Sandhya. He wants to impress her with his art through a love letter that has to be worded just right. Now Santoshi was a writer himself and he knew how this breed works. Most good writers make drafts and then keep changing the words and syntax till the product reads just right. Thus in the song we heard the hero sing as he wrote. Ishq …preet…pyaar…haan! Pyaar! Tumse hai pyaar mujhe tumse hai pyaar…Hum jaante hain pyaar mein hota naheen vishwaas…vishwaas? Hn hn…yaqeen…naheen…aitbaar…haan! Hum jaante hain pyaar mein hota naheen aitbaar. Voila, he’s got the rhyme right! Hear this song and marvel at this man’s mind and art.
Here are just a few more of his wonderful songs, with the films and singers mentioned:
- Aa teri tasweer bana loon (Naadaan/Talat)
- Bichhde hue milenge phir (Post Box No. 999/Rafi, Asha)
- Hanste hanste rona pada (Nazariya/Lata)
- Jab dil ko sataave gham, tu chhed sakhi sargam (Sargam/Lata, Saraswati Rane)
- Jo mujhe bhula ke chale gaye (Sangeeta/Lata)
- Jogi aaya le ke sandesha Bhagwan ka (Post Box No. 999/Manna Dey)
- Kitna meettha hota hai (Teen Batti Chaar Raasta/Lata)
- Maar kataari mar jaana (Shehnai/Amirbai)
- Mere dil mein hai ik baat (Post Box No. 999/Manna Dey, Lata)
- O neend na mujhko aaye (Post Box No. 999/Hemant, Lata)
- Teriya teriya teriya (Chalis Baba Ek Chor/Lata, Chitalkar)
- Tum mere Swami antaryaami (Chhote Babu/Manna Dey)
- Wo humse chup hai, hum unse chup hain (Sargam/Lata, Chitalkar)
It is said that Santoshi spent his last days listening to sad songs, including his own for Lata, where she sounds her sacrificial-lamb best.
Originally written for DNA and published on 9th September 2018, page 13, http://epaper2.dnaindia.com/index.php?mod=1&pgnum=1&edcode=131002&pagedate=2018-09-09
Featured image on top: from Jogi aaya leke sandesha Bhagwan ka